This week we celebrated National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, an opportunity to honor volunteers in our community for their selfless contributions.  The irreplaceable impact of their time and energy enhances our quality of life year-round. 

Perhaps the reminder of the significant benefit we all receive from volunteers will persuade more people to volunteer.  There are several places that I personally know about where one might provide volunteer services. The Interfaith Shelter of Hope and Welcome Central, now located at 311 Kiowa, needs workers at the night shelter from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m.  You will be trained before you start work and the time commitment is about three hours every third week.  It is night work; you will be helping to provide a safe place for homeless folks to sleep. 

During the day, there is a day center in the same building where homeless people can gather.  Volunteers provide instruction about daily living skills, information about social service providers, and access and transportation to helping agencies and other essential services.

Equipment and facilities are available to assist with finding employment and housing.  For information, call 913-702-8108 or go to the shelter website. 

Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital, 711 Marshall, has a very active Auxiliary where volunteers support patients and employees.  When you enter the hospital, you will usually find a volunteer at the information desk to help you find your way.  You will also see a gift shop in the lobby.  Volunteers run the gift shop, choosing and displaying merchandise, acting as salespersons, and cashiers.  The gift shop is the main fundraising project of the Auxiliary.  Proceeds are used for annual scholarships to local students seeking a career in health care. 

The Auxiliary has also funded many hospital improvements, including new tables and chairs in the hospital cafeteria, waiting room furnishings for the Maternity Center, and a television, recliners and warming blankets for the chemotherapy suite. 

Volunteers also serve in the surgical waiting room, providing waiting families and friends with information and support.  Volunteers usually work a three-hour shift once a week and receive training prior to beginning work.  For information, call 913-684-1112. The Heritage Center, 109 Delaware, uses volunteers to accomplish the mission to provide a spacious and affordable community facility for public and private events. 

Focusing on “Keeping Our Community Active,” volunteers cook and serve meals, decorate for events, make crafts for a small gift shop, raise funds, schedule guest lectures and entertainment and perform other tasks to keep the center operating smoothly.  For more information, call 913-682-2122.

The Women’s Community Y, 520 S Broadway, serves women and children by developing programs and coordinating resources to help women meet their social, emotional, financial, spiritual, recreational and educational needs.  The Y provides early childhood education and quality day care, offering preschool, pre-K, child care and school-age care, full-time and part-time. 

The Y also provides classes for parents and community members and some recycling services.  For more information, call 913-682-6404.

The Youth Achievement Center, 314 Delaware, provides a safe place for children to spend time after school. The center provides tutoring, structured activities, and programs focusing on alcohol/substance abuse prevention and empowering children to become productive members of society. 

For example, the students can participate in group bike rides for at-risk youth.  The rides, facilitated by the staff of Santa Fe Trails Bike and Coffee Shop, are held on Wednesdays from 4-5 p.m., weather permitting. Bikes, helmets, pre- and post-ride snacks and beverages are provided for the students who need them.  For more information call 913-682-8222.

The Richard Allen Cultural Center, 412 Kiowa, works to highlight African-American history. In 1992, the museum opened in the former home of U.S. Army Capt. William Bly, a Buffalo Soldier during World War I.  In addition to display and preservation of historical artifacts, photographs, costumes and displays, the center offers tutoring to children. Tutors include military officers from Fort Leavenworth's Buffalo Soldier Chapter of ROCKS, a professional development organization which began in the 1960s to support the professional advancement of African-American military officers in the U.S. Army.  

Members of the ROCKS continue to provide tutoring to children of all races at the center.  Volunteers tutor and assist with maintenance and operation of the museum.  For more information, call 913-682-8772.

The Leavenworth Council on Aging, 1830 S Broadway, serves all Leavenworth County senior citizens.  Volunteers drive buses, take Meals on Wheels to homes, help with four nutrition sites, visit and phone people, run errands, help with taxes and legal concerns, and provide seniors with recreation and education opportunities. 

The agency also offers opportunities for young people and senior citizens to share experiences through a pen pal program.  For more information, call 913-684-0777. 

Have I whetted your appetite for service through volunteering your time and talents?  If you are a volunteer, you belong to an extraordinary group of people.  Studies have shown that volunteering results in enhanced resilience, adaptability and learning.  Motivated primarily by a desire to make a difference, volunteers receive benefits in return. It might take some trial and error to find the right match for your desire to donate your time, but when you find your niche in the volunteer world, you will probably see increased contentment, new friends, new skills, and untold other benefits. 

Giving to others can even help enhance your mental and physical health because it’s fulfilling and it's fun.  A study in 2011 looked at 37 countries, including the United States.  Approximately 140 million people in the 37 countries engaged in volunteer work in a typical year. If those volunteers comprised the population of a country, it would be the ninth largest country in the world. They represent the equivalent of 20.8 million full-time workers. Those volunteers contribute around $400 billion annually to the global economy. 

So, as a volunteer, we have an impact.  The organizations I’ve mentioned and many others in our community, are able to do so much more because they have volunteers working beside their wonderful employees.